Friday, September 17, 2010

Brian Rueb's two-month journey across Iceland should prove to be one for the book

As an enterprising professional wildlife and landscape photographer based in Northern California, Brian Rueb recently decided it was time to do a book. "Following much discussion with my family, I decided to embark on what would be my journey of a lifetime -- a two-month photography trek this past summer in beautiful and hauntingly mysterious Iceland.

"Iceland is an amazing country dotted with glaciers, expansive moss-covered lava fields, crystal blue rivers, thundering waterfalls, and lagoons filled with icebergs. Not to mention the miles upon miles of coastline. It really is a landscape photographer's playground, and I intended to see as much of it as possible. The image above was captured at Lagarfljót, a large lake in eastern Iceland. Many believe a large Loch Ness monster type creature lives in the murky green waters, which may be the reason this house sits abandoned on its shore. On this night I saw nothing but a horse that followed me around as I photographed the shoreline.


"One of my favorite spots of the trip was a little area called Borgarfjörður Eystri, a series of mountainous areas along the Eastern Fjords of the country. A small bus dropped me off on a Friday with a promise it would return on Monday morning; and if I needed to get out before then, I could try to hitchhike. I spent the next few evenings exploring the many trails that covered the area. It's possible to hike here for hours and never see another person. One of my favorite aspects of photographing Iceland was the light. During most of June and July, it never gets dark, and on pleasant evenings you can expect a sunset lasting up to five hours… full of light, color and all the magic that seems so fleeting on a typical landscape shoot. On this particular night I had spent a solid 2 hours photographing fog and alpenglow on an adjacent ridge of mountains and was heading back towards camp when I noticed the light and clouds over these mountains. I walked around for a few minutes until I found this little tarn that fit nicely in the foreground. I used my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo to polarize the water and add some reflection to it. I also used a 4-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the bright sky with the darker foreground. After this image was taken, I still had 2 more hours of similar sunset lighting. I actually went to sleep because I had run out of things to photograph. How crazy is that?

"One of the goals for this trip was to head to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the western fjords region of the country, hoping I could photograph the Arctic Fox. The Arctic Fox has been hunted extensively in most regions of the country. One of the last areas where you can see them is Hornstrandir. On my first evening in the area, I set out to scout the area and get an idea where the foxes were living. Then I would figure out how to photograph them. As luck would have it, two minutes into my hike I almost literally stumbled on this little guy. He was only 2 feet away from me and didn’t seem too concerned that I was there. Within another minute I was photographing the fox. I followed him around for over an hour. He got so used to me that at one point he even took a nap while I sat patiently 8 feet away... waiting. One of the filters I used to photograph these animals was the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier. Not only does the filter provide a bright image in the viewfinder, it helps with the autofocus capabilities, and allows for a faster shutter speed than I could use with a conventional color enhancing filter. This filter also added a little more intensity to the orange eyes of the fox, and the lush greenery behind him. While I think most people use the filter for landscape images, I think it's perfect for wildlife.

"I also used my Color Intensifier for this last image of Skogafoss, a very large and iconic waterfall surrounded by lush green foliage in southern Iceland. I’ve seen various shots of this waterfall photographed mostly from the front, which made me eager to find a different angle. After a failed attempt to cross the river to get to the far side of the waterfall -- the water was too fast and murky -- I finally decided on a little perch about 2/3 of the way up the trail to the top. I carefully walked out a small dirt path to the edge of the cliff where I composed this image. Thankfully, there was no wind that evening and I didn’t have to battle mist from the falls in addition to my fear of heights. The Color Intensifier was the perfect filter. Since it only added about 2/3 of an f-stop to my exposure, I could use a sufficiently fast shutter speed to avoid over-blurring the water -- it’s critical to find that shutter speed that shows some water movement, but doesn’t overdo it. The Color Intensifier gave me the creative control I needed to get the image I had in mind as I crept out on that very scary ledge.

"This trip to Iceland was an amazing experience, and one that I’m now working to document in a book. Spending hours each day making photographs was both a creative challenge and a lot of fun. It truly would not have been possible without my filters. The unique light and weather conditions presented many challenges every day. Even though the good light lasted for hours, it was critical to have my filters on hand to help balance out very tricky exposures. I spent over a year planning this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I had to be sure that I came home with the types of images I saw with my eyes. I knew it was imperative that I had my Singh-Ray filters with me to make sure I didn’t miss any of the amazing things I was going witness. To keep me busy while in Iceland, I took on several local projects with the Reykjavik and Fosshotel Hotel chains where I provided photographs in exchange for the occasional comfy hotel room to break up the many nights I spent in my tent."

You can see more of his work and follow Project Iceland for updates on new images and progress on the book at his website and follow him on Facebook as well. He also teaches a variety of landscape workshops at the Aperture Academy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cruising Alaska's southern coast these past four summers taught Jon Cornforth to work with the light that's there

For 19 days this past July, Jon Cornforth was once again on board his 22-foot C-Dory cruising Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage -- just as he'd done the three summers before. "Having my own boat allows me to navigate the coast on my own terms to document the unique landscapes and wildlife that live there. On this year's trip, I also experienced the nicest stretch of good weather that I have ever experienced up there. I barely got rained on, and it was sunny more often than not. But of course there were still plenty of clouds to deal with. Instead of waiting for some truly amazing sunlight to make the scene and then being so often disappointed, I've learned it's much more rewarding to just keep working with whatever light is there -- even Alaska's frequently gloomy-to-mildly overcast light. My Singh-Ray filters play an important part in that effort.

"I have very mixed feelings about photographing tidewater glaciers in Alaska. They are beautiful to visit, but I also know they will never again be in this same position in my lifetime as a result of the glacial recession caused by climate change. During my previous visits to Tracy Arm, it was very difficult and dangerous for me to get close to the North Sawyer Glacier and impossible to approach the South Sawyer Glacier. The absence of any floating ice during this year's visit might have occurred for a variety of reasons, but there is no denying I would not have been able to stand on this recently exposed granite ledge when it was covered by the glacier only a few years ago. I was drawn to the red color of this ledge system and the patterns reminded me of native American rock-art in the Southwest. There was no safe place to land my inflatable, so I had my father, who was with me, drop me off for a few hours to do my thing. He patiently floated amongst the ice and watched harbor seals until he saw me start waving like a madman to get back on the boat. I wonder what the people on the handful of tour boats thought of the guy in the red jacket and bibs standing on this lonely ledge high above the water taking pictures? I used my LB Warming Polarizer to reduce the reflection on the granite and my 4-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter to gently balance the exposure of the clouds with the rest of the scene. I used my Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 lens to give this image a moderately wide-angle perspective which would not over-exaggerate the foreground at the expense of making the glacier in the distance too small.

"One of my favorite anchorages in all of Southeast Alaska is on the south side of the Brothers Islands. I've spent the night there numerous times while photographing humpback whales, but never went on shore to take any pictures, so this visit I made it a priority to get on land. I found a number of patches of wildflowers right above the tide line in the forest that immediately caught my attention. I took my time to explore them with my camera, especially since there weren't any brown bears to worry about on this tiny island. This patch of grass at the base of a cliff included Indian paintbrush and blue bells, which added a simple splash of color to the otherwise earth-toned scene. I used my LB Warming Polarizer to reduce the glare on the leaves and to make the overall colors slightly more saturated. I also chose to use my Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 lens because I could still get the depth-of-field that I needed while cropping into the overall scene enough to eliminate the distracting branches and other nearby elements.

"This view of the fireweed in bloom at Brotherhood Park in Juneau is one of the more iconic images of Alaska. Even though I have regularly visited Juneau for each of the past four summers, this photo had eluded me until now. After cleaning my boat and pulling it out of the water at the end of the trip, I decided to try shooting this scene since the weather was so nice -- even though I was scheduled to fly home that night. The wind was gently rustling the 7-foot-tall fireweed, but I was able to capture a few images without the flowers moving by using ISO 400 and shooting at 1/10 second, as well as using my LB warming Polarizer and 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND to balance the exposure of the sky. I would never have captured this scene if I were still shooting medium or large format film. Using Fuji Velvia 50 would have called for bracketing several exposures between 6 and 20 seconds to compensate for possible reciprocity failure. (I'm just saying I'm a digital convert.) Here again I used my 35mm f2 lens, because the flowers were big enough that I did not need to get too close to them to maintain good depth-of-field. The moderate wide-angle lens did not reduce the distant Mendenhall Peaks and Glacier to insignificant elements of the overall composition. It was a beautiful sunset and, even though this location is right next to the road, my friend and I were the only photographers shooting that night."

Jon is based in Seattle, WA, and can be found all over the internet. In addition to his blog, check out his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube pages. More recently, he was invited to become a contributor to the Outdoor Photographer Blog. And of course, you can visit his website to see more photographs and learn about his tours.